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Barbara Comyns: Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

03 Apr 2012 · No Comments

This is an odd, disquieting, and hard-to-pin down little novel. Comyns manages to make strengths of qualities that are often considered flaws. The tone varies substantially, sometimes within the span of a single page or less. A vein of mildly satirical comedy of manners runs through it, but it also encompasses an eerie streak not far removed from horror. (I was reminded a bit of Robert Aickman, although Comyns is both more naturalistic and more morbid.) The narrative voice flits among the characters like a spotlight gone AWOL. The characters don’t participate in the plot so much as bob along on top of it, like flotsam caught up in the flood that opens the novel. Comyns’s prose uses the passive voice enough for me to remark upon it, but also evinces singular and vivid descriptions. It has a peculiar rhythm (Comyns has a fondness for single sentences that don’t quite fit with the paragraphs that surround them). Somehow all this adds up to a whole that seems to be much more than the sum of its parts.
And it’s not every book that can make me wince one second and chuckle the next.

h/t: Paula, whose review inspired me to put the book in my to-read stack.
Dept. of neither-particularly-here-nor-there: wikipedia insists on referring to the author by her married name, Barbara Comyns Carr.

needs more demons? decidedly not

Tags: c-author · fiction · w-title

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